About Visual Argument

A visual argument is entirely possible, and, yes, it is also possible to have an entirely visual argument without text, although I agree with the authors that this is more difficult to do so in a way that allows multiple audiences to experience the same argument in the same way. From the Blair reading, the Benetton ad is a great example of a visual argument that is possible without a linguistic reference. As with traditional arguments, the visual argument must make a claim and somehow support that claim. I agree with Blair that the visual arguments even moreso than linguistic arguments depend on the unconscious identifications they make. These identifications require the creator of the visual argument to be cognizant of potential identifications and how the context of the visual argument will assist or work against the identifications.

Last week, I shared Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement as an example that could be used with Cultural Studies methodology. The announcement was posted on Instagram which means the immediate audience for the announcement were the legions of fans who follow Beyonce on Instagram. The larger audience was the whole world because anyone could recognize that Beyonce’s announcement would be likely to go viral (although not viral enough, apparently; when watching the Grammy’s this weekend, my husband had to ask me if she was pregnant). The announcement is just that: an announcement, first and foremost. There’s not much argument in: “Hey, guess what? I’m having two babies!” (The words of the post were unnecessary to help make the announcement that she is pregnant; they did, however, add the additional detail that she is pregnant with twins)
But this announcement is also a celebration. It is a personal celebration for Beyonce and JayZ: they are “blessed” to be expecting twins. Some would argue (have argued– see earlier post with links to sources) that the announcement is also a celebration of black motherhood particularly. A claim could be made that Beyonce is reclaiming pregnancy for all women instead of all white women. Again, this all depends on identification, though.
As I said in class last week, some looked at the image and thought it looked like a cheap J.C. Penney portrait. Others, though, saw Madonna (the mother of Jesus, not the singer) imagery. Anyone used to classic art would recognize the veil as a religious accoutrement. This is all to say that the extent to which something is viewed as an argument often depends on who is doing the viewing and how much they know about the context of the imagery and/or the intent of its creator. It turns out that the announcement image was only the beginning. It was a prelude of sorts to Beyonce’s Grammy’s performance where motherhood was celebrated to a higher degree and with additional religious imagery.
When it comes to my project for the course, I do not see concert totems as attempting to persuade. They are signposts to alert people to the location of one person. I would argue that the totems do send various messages, though. For instance, the sign on the right (“Send Red Bull”) sends the message to me that this person intends to be seen on videos and streaming services of the concerts in addition to allowing his friends to locate him. The creator of this sign likely thought, “Hey, this will be funny if it appears in a video.” The audience for this sign is the world outside of the festival in the same way that a “Mom, I’m having a good time” sign would be intended to be funny to people viewing from home– funny as well to people in attendance but is it possible to argue it is funniER to people outside? It’s interesting to note that the flipside of the Red Bull sign is meant for those at the festival as its message is “Puke and Rally,” which also suggests the holder might be drinking more than the requested Red Bull. My identification of an audience for this side once again depends on the claim that this side of the sign would be funnier to people in attendance who might have experienced a similar sentiment during the festival.
The signs in the left-hand picture (Doge and Rodney Dangerfield) will also be visible on streaming services because of their size. They have a low-lying claim of Doge and Rodney Dangerfield being cool in some sort of offbeat way. I’d argue that by creating a very large sign, the creator is also sending a message that their enjoyment of the show is more important than the enjoyment of people in the 2-5 feet directly behind them, as the sign has the potential to block the view of the stage for a swath of people in that area. But overall, I do not think argument is the main goal for these totems, as not much is at stake when claiming that Doge and Rodney Dangerfield are cool or strange enough to merit the expense of a large sign from Kinko’s. So, I guess you would say that I am arguing that a true visual argument has stakes attached to the outcome of the argument’s reception by the audience.
I’m tacking on a post-script. I created the following visual argument a few weeks ago and I am inordinately proud of it. My claim is that Trump has signed so many executive orders he is as bad as Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (I do not claim credit for the image of Trumpbridge; I merely put the two images together with the text) A working knowledge of Harry Potter movie #5 is needed in order to understand the meme. True Harry Potter fans would understand the meaning without the included text.

Summary and Review of the TYCA White Paper on Placement Reform

My project this semester is to test the validity of a Rhetorical Analysis Diagnostic Exam (RADE) that my department has created.  This test is meant to supplement or replace the English portion of Accuplacer as a placement exam for the writing courses at my institution. My WPD gave me the task of reviewing TYCA’s White Paper before revising RADE. In the next two weeks, I will be revising the test a colleague created. I will also be reformatting the test within Blackboard.


The TYCA White Paper is meant to guide decisions made about placement at two-year colleges given the current state of upheaval created by the loss of COMPASS. COMPASS was an inexpensive option for many schools. Its dissolvement gives  two-year colleges “an opportunity and a challenge: how to replace an easy-to-use and relatively cheap placement process which has been shown to be severely flawed with a practical and affordable process that is supported by current research” (2).


In the “business as usual” section, the committee explains the flaws inherent in replacing one flawed high-stakes test with another. The assessments are problematic for many reasons, not least of which is weak validity. Additionally, the practice of using a high-stakes exam further divides institutional practices from the professional expertise of the faculty.


TYCA  has long recognized that the most effective way to evaluate students’ writing ability is to assess their writing, but there are problems with implementing this type of placement in a two-year college. To be most effective, the writing sample should not be a single piece of writing and it should be “situated within the context of the institution” (7). It should also be assessed by faculty who teach the courses the students will be placed into. As this process is both time-consuming and costly, most two-year colleges will not be able to implement it.


The committee recommends basing placement on multiple measures rather than one high-stakes test or a stand-alone writing sample. Possible measures include: high school GPA or transcript, Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI), interview, writing sample, previous college coursework, and/or a portfolio (8-9). The committee supports use of Directed Self-Placement but also recognizes that it might not be feasible for many institutions. Other options are in-class diagnostic writing samples with the opportunity to move into credit-bearing courses or acceleration models that allow students to take a credit-bearing course alongside a Basic Writing course and progress to 101 on the merit of the credit-bearing course’s grade.


If a stand-alone test is going to be used,  special attention must be made to ensure it is fair and non-discriminatory to students of differing backgrounds, age ranges, etc. Among the recommendations of the committee is that all reforms should “be grounded in disciplinary knowledge” and “be assessed and validated locally” (21).


The TYCA White Paper will serve as an invaluable resource as my colleagues and I continue to argue for use of RADE as an alternative to Accuplacer. Many of the reforms mentioned in the white paper are not possible for my institution, as the administration has already decided to use Accuplacer and will not pay for additional tests to be administered. Additionally, much of our enrollment comes from students who expect to register for classes the day they enroll in the college. For that reason, multiple measures (and DSP which relies on multiple measures) will not be possible without endangering enrollment procedures, something the college is understandably loathe to do. My personal take-away from the article is the importance of making sure our diagnostic test does not unfairly privilege any demographic groups over others.
TYCA Research Committee. “TYCA White Paper on Writing Placement Reform.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College. Pending, 09/2016.